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Gesänge des Orients
Viktor ULLMANN (1898-1944)
Liederbuch des Hafis, Op. 30 (1940) [8:16]
Zwei chinesische Lieder (1943) [4:25]
Gottfried von EINEM (1918-1986)
Hafis-Lieder, Op. 5 (1947) [8:48]
Fünf Lieder aus dem Chinesischen, Op. 8 (1948) [7:20]
Pavel HAAS (1899-1944)
Čtyři písně na slova čínské poezie (1944) [13:35]
Čínské písně, Op. 4 (1919) [8:16]
Egon WELLESZ (1885-1974)
Lieder aus der Fremde, Op. 15 (1913) [3:32]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Gesänge des Orients Op. 77: Nos, 1, 2, 5 (1928) [7:27]
Hans GÁL (1890-1987)
Five Songs for medium voice and piano, Op.33, Nos 4 and 5 (1917-21) [5:41]
Simon Wallfisch (baritone)
Edward Rushton (piano)
rec. 2017, Wyastone Leys, UK
Translations into English; no original texts
NIMBUS NI5971 [67:19]

The cycle that lends its name to the disc title is appositely selected. Simon Wallfisch and Edward Rushton have chosen songs that reflect early twentieth century enthusiasm for Chinese and Persian poetry in translation. To bind the concept yet further there is the element of Entermeted Musik at work as well as Czech lineages – Ullmann and Haas – the émigré Austrians Wellesz and Gál, and von Einem and Richard Strauss. The last named is included, in Wallfisch’s words, because he wants the listener to hear ‘beyond the painful historical facts’ to enjoy the musical sound world of all the composers in the programme.

Wallfisch brings plenty of character and colour to Ullmann’s Hafiz Song Book. He catches alike the bluff populist elements of the first song as well as the vamp-till-ready romance of the third, with its neat postlude, finely dispatched by Rushton. The appositely woozy final song in praise of wine is a remarkably insouciant document for its time and place – Prague, 1940 – and Wallfisch shows just a bit of strain here. Einem’s 1947 selection of Hafiz lyrics doesn’t replicate Ullman’s and his musical means are, of course, very different: brief, brusque, dissonant, brittle but also unexpectedly ending songs or with an almost verismo vocal line (song six of the set) or raiding dance patterns.

The 1943 two Chinese settings by Ullmann are taken at a good brisk tempo by this pair, significantly faster than the speeds taken by soprano Irena Troupová in her two-disc Ullmann survey on Arco Diva: and I think this works to the songs’ melancholy concentration. Haas’ two cycles come from the very start (1919) and the truncated end (1944) of his career, subtle examples of his vocal art, and adeptly performed here. Einem’s own 1948 cycle offers five typically compressed, allusive settings, heard in the familiar Bethge German translations; a cleverly ‘on one note’ setting, and lighter characterisation as well as darker ones. Wellesz, Strauss and Gál all employed Bethge’s translations, as had Mahler before them, though only three of the Strauss cycle are performed (Nos. 1, 2 and 5) sounding very romantically extrovert in the context of the recital as a whole; similarly, only two of Gal’s Five Songs, Op.33. It’s this last omission that is perhaps the most disappointing, particularly at a time when Gál’s music is being recorded across genres but most especially in symphonic and chamber music. At least we have the Wolf-inspired impulses of the fifth of the set, as well as the drifting expressionism of Wellesz.

Now for the rigorous summing up. This is one of Nimbus’ typical, billowy empty ballroom acoustics. The songs are not separately tracked but collected under the cycle (so bad luck if you want to listen to a particular song in a cycle – you’ll have to fast-forward or reverse). There are English translations in the booklet but there are no original texts. I don’t want to be Hard-Hearted Hannah about this, but it surely couldn’t have been difficult individually to track the songs or too costly to have provided the original texts alongside the English translations.

Jonathan Woolf



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